Huge No-Notice Changes to American AAdvantage Awards You Probably Don’t Ever Book

Without any advance notice, American is increasing the price of “AAnytime awards” for travel effective June 1. This is the price when regular award seats aren’t available.

They are also eliminating their highly valuable, but complicated, distance-based oneworld awards.

US Airways also changes their version of AAnytime awards for travel effective June 1 as well, going to a four-tier redemption chart. (US Airways has had a three-tier award chart for years.) That applies only to the US Airways award chart and not to the partner redemption chart.

There are no changes at this time to American’s saver awards, which is what most of us book and care about.

American’s New AAnytime Awards

I’ve only booked a few AAnytime awards in my life, for instance during a British Airways cabin crew strike when I had a BA first class award I booked a United award as a backup home from London in case my flight was cancelled. It wasn’t, and I refunded the award. It’s a nice option but one I rarely exercise.

And it’s not unexpected. When American introduced their Hong Kong flight, they added a separate zone for the flight and priced their rule-buster style AAnytime awards nearly triple the cost of saver awards.

A year ago I predicted the death of the double miles award (and why the US Airways/American merger will kill it for good). American was the last holdout charging just double miles for last seat award availability offered to all of its members. That’s no longer the case, just as expected. It’s sad, but it’s competitive with other airlines, and indeed in many case their offerings are still cheaper than the competition.

What American has done is implement a three-tier structure for their AAnytime extra availability awards.

The lowest tier is in some cases fewer miles than what we pay now to buy out of capacity controls. The second level is almost always more miles. And the third level doesn’t even specify a price. Level three just says, “*AAnytime Level 3 awards are offered on a few select dates and will require higher number of miles to redeem.

Here’s the new American award chart.

Remember, these are changes just to extra availability awards which apply only to travel on American. Travel on partners is always at the saver level and does not change.

It appears that with these changes there will always be last seat availability at some price. The price may be astronomical but the award will be possible. In contrast, United — at similar high prices — offers last seat availability only to their elite members and co-brand credit card holders. Otherwise MileagePlus has capacity controls even on their rule-buster style awards.

That said, the “*” third tier level is frightening. They won’t commit to a fixed price, and haven’t given us an indication of how it will be calculated. One expects pricing at this level to be rare, and rarely used anyway, but an explanation of what it means would be good.

The Elimination of the Distance-Based Award

I’ve booked the distance-based oneworld explorer award. It provides great value, especially for adding lots of short-distance flights around Europe without spending extra miles and for using extra miles to avoid American’s rather arcane routing rules like not flying via Europe to Asia and not flying via Asia to Australia or via the Middle East to Africa.

But I’ve only booked a few, they’re restrictive in other ways (like having to include only oneworld airlines, and include two of them other than American in the award).

American says they are getting rid of it “since very few AAdvantage members used the awards.” They also explain is as part of aligning policies with US Airways which doesn’t offer such an option, but there’s no reason of course that the alignment couldn’t have simply been to keep this option (with US Airways members getting it when the two frequent flyer programs are combined).

The Elimination of Stopovers

It appears – based on a conversation with an agent, an attempted booking on the AA.com website, and reports elsewhere – that stopovers have been eliminated.

American has permitted stopovers at no additional charge only at the North American gateway city. That meant that if you were flying, say, New York – San Francisco – Hong Kong you could have a stopover in San Francisco. If you were flying Tokyo – Dallas – Austin you could have a stopover in Dallas.

That feature appears to have been eliminated, although I’m waiting for official word on this.

Most people won’t notice these changes

I don’t love these changes, but they’re restricted to the sorts of awards I don’t book or that are fairly obscure.

It matters of course if there winds up less saver award availability than there is today, but we don’t have reason to expect that to be the case especially since saver premium cabin transatlantic award availability on American is already so limited.

The worst part is the loss of the hedge, I liked the idea of the double miles award more than actually using it. And the other component here that’s bad from a trust perspective is that these changes are being implemented without notice.

After all of this I’m still happier with American miles than United or Delta miles.


About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community Milepoint.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Gary, I think the phrase “lesser used” is true backwards looking, but you don’t create a five tier system without a spread of business in the middle tier. USAir actually calls it “middle”.

    You are assuming past availability at lower levels will continue. This was not done just for last seat availability.

    I agree that your heading sugar coats the changes because it projects minimal impact. I’m an AA lover, but the trust is gone, and so is the optimism.

  2. GUWonder wrote:

    “Randy Petersen advised the industry and some of its head honchos to make big changes all at once if they were going to make changes of this sort. No surprise today is a mAAssacre, and I doubt it’s all over yet.”

    I’m frankly sick of the sage of Colorado Springs.

  3. AAnytime Awards were actually really valuable to SF/LA/NY flyers. 50k and 65k last-minute one-way awards in the new C/F represented great value to me. It’s obviously a hedge/put/insurance policy (whatever you’d like to call it) for whenever saver space is not available, but it’s a pretty valuable option to have. I’m in full agreement that you seem to have given them a pass here… it’s a pretty lousy deval with no advance notice. Without CX F availability, which seems to be shrinking away pretty fast, these aren’t much better than your dreaded Skypesos.

  4. WOW!WOW!WOW! MAJOR DEVALUATION/GUTTING for American Airlines Award Program. Why Sugarcoat it (I do appreciate you bringing the topic up for discussion)? The N.A. Gateway was a very good option and the Explorer award was a very unique feature that gave AA an unique position. The 100K AA Executive Card just got gutted. I will definitely will be cancelling this AA executive card and not pay the first year annual fee.

  5. @hobo13 – I do not think that’s true, actually, he observed that in the past programs have waited to be second and often sweep in behind with changes. This is how for instance the Saturday night stay on the saver award came into being years ago, United implemented it first… took a ton of heat.. then Northwest came in behind and did the same thing. United reversed course because of the uproar but Northwest’s members were much more silent because the change wasn’t new.

    I don’t think Randy has advised programs to do this (other than that he may have told Northwest to wait on their announcement 20 years or so ago, or so someone from Northwest told me back in 2003 if I recall correctly) rather he’s observed how these things have worked in the past.

  6. I see this as a way to restrict Oneworld redemptions on AA metal. Those Avios just got a bit (meaning a whole lot) harder to redeem.

  7. Whether you intend it or not, your tone in this post gives the appearance you are an AApologist. You’ll disagree, but that won’t help your appearance.

  8. @beachfan I’m not assuming past availability at lower levels continues, actually I talk about in the post that much of this is dependent on whether or not it does.

  9. @Matt wrote, “The elimination of stopovers is HUGE bc it completely devalues the off-peak awards” well it devalues something that was a pricing glitch and American never intended to offer. 😉

  10. Gary,

    I have to admit, I actually have used the two AA awards that are getting thrown by the wayside. Over Xmas, I used a standard J award to return from EZE. Next week, I depart on a 3+ week Explorer award circling a bit of the pacific.

    If AA is using the excuse that HGP used when they got rid of the “Escapes” package, I kinda get it. They said that given the rare use of the package, training the agents and keeping them up to speed was more trouble than it is worth.

    I sort of agree — sometimes it is HARD to book an explorer award. Some agents aren’t trained well at all. I’ve had to HUCA a few times, and I shouldn’t. Throw in that if you don’t come armed with seat availability, you can tie up an agent for HOURS. I sorta kinda get why AA might get rid of these for those reasons, but still.

    Although, while the Explorer award also had its “sweet spots” some parts represented terrible value.

    All that said, I’m not sure when I’d book by next Explorer award. It was potentially years into the future.

  11. What a sad start to the week. We got great use out of the One World Explorer award – where else could you get 16 stops in Asia & Oceania all in Biz for 180,000 miles? And without head notice – shame on you, AA.

  12. Agree with others expressing their disappointment in your post Gary. Traveling with family members I often have to book some AAnytime awards to get first/business. Not everybody travels alone all the time. I’m very upset at the lack of notice and consider the devaluation pretty massive.

    I too would put the appropriate spin on the Citi 100k mile cards and US Air 100% bonus offers now. I will certainly be valuing my AA miles substantially less after this.

  13. The reason Gary is “pussy footing” is because this is his livelihood. If he tells you that all mileage programs suck now because of crappy availability, make changes with no notice, charge huge YQ, etc., well then you won’t be very likely to click on his credit card links, would you?

    Cue the posts that will say the game goes on and how we’re still better off than before, blah blah blah.

  14. He’s just a a very intelligent/over entitled/attension seeking douche. Always has been..what’s the shock. Although,he does provide good information–I’ll give him that

  15. No stopovers? Oh that stinks, if true. In fact the “current” stopover policy is less than what it used to be. In the past, travelers could stopover at the International gateway as well, and at the US Gateway for both inbound and outbound.

    I hope the restore the accurate mile award from HKG-NRT to 20K in economy, rather than 40K. 40K in economy for 3400 mile round trip flight with JL and CX direct options is ridiculous.

    Of course, business class if 60K for that route, should be 40K. Ditto with First from 80K to 60K. Not the blue train, just a 3 hour flight.

    Just my opinion. Thanks!

    ED.

  16. For me the elimination of stopovers is HUGE. Living in DFW, I almost book these exclusively. BZE-DFW-CUN in business is only 30k. It’s like 2 for the price of 1. Reduces the value of MY miles by half. Pretty devastating. I am not so upset that AA made the change. I just wish they would have given some notice.

  17. Interesting title (contradiction?)– This is huge, but you probably won’t be impacted.

    I agree with the former (this is huge), and very strongly disagree with the latter. At one time I think you even wrote a piece about the value of rule-buster awards (AAnytime awards for AA) for emergencies, etc, and given the increases in airfares AAnytime have been good values even domestically – which is what probably drove the change and why many readers will be impacted.

  18. Gary,

    After the Delta piece last night, you could at least treat AAdvantage with this same critical eye. These are big deal changes. 1. No advance notice, which is a cardinal sin in the miles and points world. 2. No more free stopover in North American gateway city – also very big, because it literally makes international awards more expensive unless you live in the gateway city. 3. Distance based Oneworld explorer – while many people may not use it, this is a big aspirational award for some travelers. Just because AAdvantage
    says many people don’t use it doesn’t mean it is useless.

    People notice these changes and I think your title is misleading. You should be emphasizing the negative impacts of these no notice changes with italics, bold, and underline, or however else you can demonstrate that this is bad for aadvantage program members.

  19. Yikes, I knew the merger would be bad which is why I stop chasing even the American Elite wheel this year. Just at 25,000 miles with no more paid trips planned.

    I noticed the last couple two years that there has been a reduction of saver award space. (Try booking DFW-LHR in business for example) I think there was one on July 12th, and two on some Tuesday in November last I checked. So for about 95% of the DFW-LHR award space will be priced at 220,000 to 260,000 miles to fly Dallas to London in business class.

    Which airline has more saver space to Europe now, disAAdvantage or SkyPeso Gary?

  20. As someone with three OWE awards ticketed but with the miles for several more, I’m concerned that American can simply drop support for these with zero notice. It’s poor form and you should have called them out on it much stronger than you did.

  21. Zero notice changes are becoming the new industry standard. Now even for AA. How the mighty have fallen.

  22. Gary,

    I wouldn’t go as far as saying that I lost respect for you. It’s kind of hard to say something that harsh to someone I don’t know a lot about much less ever met. However, I do take issue with the tone of this article and the earlier AA article. This post almost seems mocking at the flood of angry comments that you were expecting in the comments section.

    In general, your content stands at a higher level in this business and people catch on when there is a difference of neutrality. Your posts on Delta and other programs have a tone which most of your readers relate to when they feel they are wronged either by no notice changes, huge devaluations and removal of certain sweet spots.

    When you use words like “you won’t ever book” or say it’s restrictive because you have to use only OW partners, it implies to an already angry crowd that you are giving tacit approval to those changes. You mention that the Oneworld explorer is not used that much. But, reading up on the comments here, though just a subset, tells me otherwise. Count me in that bucket too as I have a trip in May using that and was planning to book another for Asia next year.

    I think a little more outrage at these changes would pacify the mob though ultimately, the loss of explorer is the single most loss I probably ever had and will have as I always know that redemption rates will go up.

  23. I agree some of these awards were rarely used and probably aren’t going to affect most of us (even the Explorer awards), but the loss of a stopover is huge because I’d wager just about every one of your readers has used this perk in booking award flights. Downplaying that seems ridiculous, especially because it is a huge factor in the value of awards and it was done with no notice. I think your coverage of Delta vs. American based on that change is reflective of some relationship (whether a business one or not) you have with American.

  24. Gary – Just to show you what I meant earlier about tone. A couple years back Marriott removed all inclusive rewards with no notice, overnight, just like AA. That’s an award that was likely used significantly less than free stopovers, AAnytime and explorer awards combined. And yet your entire post then focused (correctly, in my opinion) on the method in which the change was made. Contrast that to this morning’s post, and hopefully you can see why many of your loyal readers (myself included) don’t understand your reaction today. Obviously it’s your blog, your business, your opinion; but this time I just don’t get it…

    http://viewfromthewing.boardingarea.com/2011/10/22/marriott-eliminates-all-inclusive-rewards-with-no-notice-whatsoever/

  25. @Alex K – The difference may be that there were a ton of changes I was trying to understand early in the morning and encapsulate as much useful info as possible into the lead, something may very well have been lost. I am VERY excised about the lack of notice here, I emphasized that today both in a conversation that i had with an AP reporter and also with Suzanne Rubin directly. I’ve got 4 different posts related to American/US Airways changes today versus one single post on the Marriott all-inclusive change. So lots of different angles to look at all of this stuff, but I think the lack of notice appears in all four posts. Believe me, not something I’m intending to come across as under-emphasizing.

  26. Gary – Thanks for the comment and glad to hear the frustration was passed on to the press and AA directly. Looking forward to seeing if you get any substantive responses, especially in terms of notice on future possible (likely?) changes.

  27. I’m not generally one to jump on the Internet outrage wagon. Programs with terms that allow them to make changes without notice might, in fact, make changes without notice.

    In the universe of recent program changes, however, I think AA’s abandoning the Explorer award without notice is the worst I’ve seen. That’s because it’s generally an expensive award that people may well have been saving up for. It’s not like they made it a little pricier or more restrictive — they simply pulled it right out from under loyal AA travelers who may have been saving for years. Unlike the off peak stop-over trick where people were arguably gaming the system in ways not intended by the program the Explorer award was a straight-up offer. They should have included a grace period for booking those awards and, even at this late date, they should revise at least that one aspect of these changes.

    And, I do have to say, your tone in face of this change compared to considerably less significant changes in other programs is at least confusing.

  28. I can deal with US airway to raise North Asia to 110K but I am very angry about AA eliminate explorer as I am about to book a world trip on this. Now they don’t even give an advanced notice for members to prepare this huge change. Gary, please help to express our voice to AA’s management.

  29. Did a quick comparison… for people who use AAnytime, this constitutes the following increases in redemption miles: 21% economy, 27% in business, and 42% in first.

    Relative value to be had still redeeming economy + business to mx/carib/central america. And surprisingly, business from nam to hk. first class is horrible through and through.

    http://i.imgur.com/GTV6MGu.png

  30. I feel cheated.

    I had intended on booking a London to Eugene, Oregon trip in September with a free stopover in New York.

    Now they say I can’t.

    The change was made with no advance notice

  31. Gary, I’m curious who you think your loyal readers are. I would think they’re moderately savvy at this game and do take advantage of free stopovers (I agree Anytime awards are of little interest). So to lump them into “awards you probably don’t ever book” seems stramge.

  32. Gary, I’m super impressed that you were, as you say, able to book an AAnytime award for travel on United Airlines. Who knew?

  33. Definitely feel cheated here too about the sudden devaluations.

    The loss of the US gateway stopover is very important to those of us who live in a US geteway to tag on segments.

    Going to start burning my AA miles ASAP

  34. Nice chart, @Allen!

    The horse is dead on the tone point. My honeymoon plans are effectively ruined, as I was planning on business to South America. I wonder if this changes the conventional wisdom that AA is best for awards to SA…

    Also, how does this impact award availability for partners? BA used to be able to see all SAAver inventory. How will that work with three tiers? I’m guessing only the lowest… :/

    AA today looks like Delta yesterday. Thanks, Doug Parker.

  35. this is horrible for the holidays. I paid 35K one way to south america last year. Now its 85K!!!!!!!!!

  36. @ff lover, @Trent (among others) you’re right!!!
    @DJ: you’re right too but OMAAT didn’t rally his readers and encourage anyone to contact anyone specifically. He should have provided specifics. If he speaks with his good friend suzie rubin I’m quite confident it’s very cordial. He’s not going to risk jack or sh!@ by asking hard questions or expecting her to provide truthful bs-less answers. doesn’t want to jeopardize ExPlat status perhaps. Period.

    So if everyone who feels they’ve been screwed by rubin and company, here you go. And it’ll make more of an impact if actual letters flood her offices. THAT beats lame tweets hands down. If she gets tens of thousands of actual letters, that’s a real pain in the ass, but it gets the point across. If you’ve been screwed,don’t pussyfoot around unless you don’t give a €£¥#.

    Suzanne.rubin@aa.com
    Thomas.horton@aa.com
    Jon.snook@aa.com

    And do what fflover suggests, it’s a great idea!!!
    Rubin & Schnook, boy what a team!

    http://viewfromthewing.boardingarea.com/2014/04/08/conversation-president-aadvantage-todays-changes-comes-next/comment-page-2/#comment-1208246

  37. Gary,

    Now that you’ve had a day to reflect, why not call up your buddy at AA (Rubin?) and ask her to reinstate Explorer awards for a week (or even just 24 hours)? If AA was genuinely surprised at the backlash yesterday, they should be willing to do this as a gesture of goodwill. The infrastructure exists, the agents are just as well trained as they were 2 days ago.

    They would probably receive a ton of goodwill from the bloggers (you!) and their frequent flyer community.

    And honestly, how many Explorer awards are going to get booked in a day / week? Is this really going to cost them that much incrementally — the people redeeming for Explorer awards are probably going to redeem high value awards anyway. The miles come off the books either way….

  38. And heck, since they never really publicized the end of Explorer anyway, this can be done with minimal fanfare. Just tell the bloggers, post on FT/MP. No need for a press release, email, etc. Just very quietly allow the awards to be booked for another day/week.

    Seems like this is really simple and a good way to generate some positive PR to cover the hatchet job they are doing to AAdvantage right now.

  39. I’m willing to bet that not even one person has vehemently expressed in the greatest detail their displeasure, mistrust and outrage to each of the following:

    Suzanne.rubin@aa.com
    Thomas.horton@aa.com
    Jon.snook@aa.com
    Douglas.parker@aa.com

    Commiserating here or any other forum won’t do jack. Not that it’ll change things but at the very least you get your point across their thick skulls.

    I have a client with 3.5+ million miles and they’ve done what I’ve suggested. Not only that, today they’ve purchased* $82k premium cabin tickets for their next trip on a head-to-head AA competitor (versus spending $52k with SuzieQ’s airline). They’ve not only written to the aforementioned douches but have scanned ticket copies showing all the details. I’d like to be with Suzie when she opens that email. :-)

    * Their last minute plans jelled yesterday and decided to book the Explorer Award. They couldn’t confirm it online, so they called. American’s reply? Verbatim: we have three seats available which you can purchase, or you can contact customer relations. (They hadn’t heard of the abrupt change prior to starting their booking). Their response was in essence, “stuff it”. It’d probably make a great MasterCard “Priceless” commercial.

    Let’s see, the net loss on this one transaction is: $??,???.00 ? Hmmmm

    So email, tweet or write if you feel you’ve been, politely put, “done”. And each time you fly, don’t go by way of Aaus then scan and forward your copies. Trivial? Maybe.

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